Diane Relf, Retired Extension Specialist, Horticulture, Virginia Tech
Alan McDaniel, Extension Specialist, Horticulture, Virginia Tech
Ronald Morse, Former Associate Professor, Horticulture, Virginia Tech
Environmental Preferences The varieties of tomato plants available may seem
overwhelming to a new gardener; ask gardening friends
for the names of their favorites. This will give you a
SOIL: Well-drained, loam.
good idea of what does well in Virginia. Virginia
Cooperative Extension Publication 426-480, Vegetables
TEMPERATURE: Warm (70° to 80°F).
Recommended for Virginia, may also be helpful.
MOISTURE: Moist, but not waterlogged.
Several major types of tomatoes exist that can be cho-
Culture sen according to need:
PLANTING: Transplant after all danger of frost is past
and when the soil has warmed.
SPACING: 18 to 36 inches by 36 inches if staked or
HARDINESS: Tender annual.
FERTILIZER NEEDS: Heavy feeder. Use starter solu-
tion for transplants. Sidedress one to two weeks after
the first hand or cluster of tomatoes begin to develop
with 3 tablespoons 33-0-0 per 10-foot row. Sidedress
again two weeks after the first ripe tomato with a bal-
anced fertilizer such as 5-10-5; repeat one month later.
Tomatoes are valuable garden plants in that they require
relatively little space for large production. Each stan- Based on plant characteristics –
dard tomato plant, properly cared for, yields 10 to 15 (a) Midget, patio, or dwarf tomato varieties have very
pounds or more of fruit. compact vines best grown in hanging baskets or
other containers. The tomatoes produced may be,
Choose varieties with disease resistance bred in for best
but are not necessarily, the cherry type (1 inch
results. Letters after the variety name indicate tolerance
diameter or less). Some produce larger fruit. These
or resistance to the following:
plants are usually short-lived, producing their crop
Fusarium Wilts Race 1(F)
quickly and for a short period.
Early Blight (As)
(b) Compact or determinate tomato plants refers to
Fusarium Wilt Race 1 and Race 2 (FF)
the plant habit of growing to a certain size, setting
Bacterial speck Pseudomonas (B)
fruit, and then declining. Most of the early ripening
Root-knot Nematodes (N)
tomato varieties are determinate and will not pro-
Septoria leaf spot (L)
duce tomatoes throughout a Virginia summer.
Tobacco Mosaic Virus (T)
(c) Indeterminate tomato plants are the opposite of the
Stemphylium Gray leaf spot (St)
determinate types. The vines continue to grow until
Alternaria Stem Canker/Crown Wilt (A)
Produced by Communications and Marketing, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2009
Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, religion,
age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or marital or family status. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University,
and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Mark A. McCann, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech,
Blacksburg; Alma C. Hobbs, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State, Petersburg.
frost or disease kills them. These are the standard, be necessary. The seeds are sown six to eight weeks
all-summer tomatoes that most people like to grow. before the last frost date in your area. A few weeks
They require support of some kind for best results, before transplanting time, harden-off indoor-grown
since otherwise the fruit would be in contact with plants by exposing them to an increasing number of
the soil, thus susceptible to rot. hours outdoors each day. Bring plants in if there is dan-
ger of frost. A few varieties of tomato (the sub-arctics)
Based on fruit characteristics – are bred to grow well in low spring temperatures; how-
ever, these are rarely available in the usual markets and
(a) Cherry tomatoes have small, cherry-sized (or a ordinarily must be grown from seed.
little larger) fruits often used in salads. Plants of
cherry tomatoes range from dwarf (Tiny Tim) to When you are ready
seven-footers (Sweet 100). One standard cherry to put home-grown
tomato plant is usually sufficient for a family, since or purchased plants
they generally produce abundantly. into the ground,
select stocky trans-
(b) Beefsteak type tomatoes are large-fruited types, plants about 6 to 10
producing a tomato slice that easily covers a sand- inches tall. Set
wich, the whole fruit weighing as much as two tomato transplants
pounds or more. These are usually late to ripen, so in the ground cov-
plant some standard-sized or early tomatoes for ering the stems so
longest harvest. that only two or
three sets of true
(c) Paste tomatoes have pear-shaped fruits with very
leaves are exposed.
meaty interiors and few seeds. They are less juicy
Horizontal planting of tomato plants is an effective way
than standard tomatoes and are without a sizeable
to make plants grow stronger, especially leggy ones.
central core. Paste tomatoes are a favorite for can-
Roots will form along the buried portion of the stem,
ning since they don’t have to be cut up and since
giving better growth and less chance of plant injury
they are so meaty.
from a too-weak stem. Do not remove the containers if
(d) Color of tomatoes include orange, yellow, pink, or they are peat or paper pots, but open or tear off one side
striped, and often the only way to get a specific one to allow roots to get a good start. If non-biodegradable
is by growing your own. Most are heritage varieties containers are used, knock the plants out of the pots
obtained through seed-saver groups. Tests have before transplanting, and loosen the roots somewhat.
shown that there is no relationship between color Press the soil firmly around the transplant so that a
and acidity of tomatoes. slight depression is formed for holding water. Pour
approximately one pint of starter solution or dilute fish
(e) Winter storage tomatoes are a relatively new item emulsion around each plant to wash the soil around the
for gardeners. The plants are set out later in the roots.
season than most tomatoes and fruit are harvested
partially ripe. If properly stored, they will stay fresh
for twelve weeks or more. While the flavor does not
equal that of summer vine-ripened tomatoes, many
people prefer them to grocery store tomatoes in
Tomato plants may be started indoors from seed or
transplants may be purchased. If starting your own
plants, use a light soil mix and give the plants plenty of
light. Tall, spindly transplants are usually caused by
low light levels in the home. Unless you have a sunny,
south-facing window, supplemental light will probably
Plants should be staked or caged. Though it requires than staked plants. However, it helps to space the plants
more initial work, this makes caring for tomatoes easi- somewhat further apart (3 feet is good) to allow good
er than letting them sprawl. Since they are off the air circulation between plants; humidity is higher
ground, fruit rots are reduced, spraying is easier and because of the foliage density, and diseases, such as
may be required less, and harvesting is much less work. late blight, spread rapidly in humid situations. If well-
For staking, space them 24 inches apart in rows 3 feet nourished and cared for, caged tomatoes can produce
apart. Use wooden stakes 6 feet long and 1 1 /2 or 2 exceptional harvests and make up for the extra space
inches wide. Drive them 1 foot into the soil about 4 to with high production. This type of culture is especially
6 inches from the plant soon after transplanting. Attach suited to indeterminate varieties.
heavy twine or strips of cloth to the stakes every 10
inches. As the plants grow, pull the stems toward the
stakes and tie loosely. Prune staked tomatoes to either Causes of Poor Tomato Fruit Set
one or two main stems. At the junction of each leaf and Fruit Set. The transition of a flower into a young fruit
the first main stem a new shoot will develop. If plants is very sensitive to several environmental factors over
are trained to two stems, choose one of these shoots, which gardeners have some control. Following is a
normally at the first or second leaf-stem junction, for brief discussion of some of the causes of poor tomato
the second main stem. Remove all other shoots, called fruit set with particular emphasis on urban gardening.
suckers, weekly to keep the plant to these two main
stems. Pinch shoots off with your fingers. Tomato Temperature and Humidity. Daytime temperatures
plants may also be set along a fence or trellis and tied above 90°F and night temperatures above 70°F result
and pruned in a manner similar to that used with in reduced flowering and fruit set. There is consider-
stakes. able evidence that night temperature is the critical fac-
tor in setting tomato fruit, the optimal range being 59°
Growing tomatoes in wire cages is one method popular to 68°F. With night temperatures much below or above
among gardeners because of its simplicity. Cage- this critical range, fruiting is reduced or absent. Low
growing allows the tomato plant to grow in its natural temperatures reduce the production and viability of
manner, but keeps the fruit and leaves off the ground. pollen. High temperature, especially if accompanied
Using wire cages requires a large initial expenditure by low humidity and moisture, hinders fruit set through
and a large storage area, but many gardeners feel that failure in pollination and/or fertilization.
the freedom from pruning and staking is worth it. The
cages, if heavy duty, will last many years. Be sure to Plant Nutrition. Reduced fruiting may result from
get fencing with at least 6 inch spacing between wires either stunted or excessively vigorous vegetative
so that you can get your hand inside to harvest the growth. Injury from disease and insects, especially
tomatoes. If tomato plants in wire cages are pruned at sucking insects such as aphids and thrips, can severely
all, once is enough; prune to three or four main stems. check growth. Inadequate moisture and/or available
Wire-cage tomatoes nitrogen can hinder growth and flower production.
develop a heavy foli- Conversely, abundant water and nitrogen can stimulate
age cover, reducing rapid vegetative growth with low levels of carbohy-
sunscald on fruits and drates remaining for the normal processes involved in
giving more leeway fruit set.
when bottom leaves
Garden sites located on heavy subsoils are infertile and
become blighted and
poorly drained. Gardeners create faulty nutrition by
have to be removed.
either not applying any fertilizer or by adding too
Many staked plants are
much. In addition, water for irrigation is often not
nearly naked by late
available during times of drought.
summer. Caged plants
are less prone to the Photoperiod (length of day). Although the tomato
spread of disease from plant can flower and fruit at any daylength (day neutral
plant handling, since plant), fruit set has been shown to be retarded under
they do not have open continuous light. Thus, tomato fruit set may be reduced
wounds and must be under the continuous illumination characteristic of
handled less frequently some environments.
Common Problems performance, they can be grown in your garden, but
probably never found in a supermarket.
DISEASES: Early blight, septoria leafspot, verticillium
and fusarium wilts, late blight, tobacco mosaic virus, With the change in trends of food production after
bacterial spot. WWII, there came a need to develop tomatoes that
could be harvested green, withstand shipping, etc., and
INSECTS: Flea beetle, hornworm, stink bugs, Colorado
maintain a good, uniform appearance. These qualities
potato beetle, fruitworm, aphids, mites, whiteflies, cut-
were achieved through hybridizing. The sacrifice of
worms, Japanese beetles.
this breeding was flavor – which, in recent years, sci-
OTHER PESTS: Nematodes. entists have been trying to re-introduce. Though
hybridized tomatoes have their place, heirloom toma-
CULTURAL: Blossom-end rot, irregular soil moisture toes definitely surpass them in one general characteris-
or calcium deficiency; poor color, yellow spots or large tic – their taste.
whitish-gray spots, sunscald from lack of foliage cover;
leaf roll, physiological condition often found in pruned Here are some common heirloom tomato varieties you
tomatoes; fruit cracking, irregular soil moisture; black may want to try:
walnut wilt, caused by roots of tomato plants coming in
contact with toxin from black walnut tree. • Big Rainbow – This very large tomato is a gold/red
bicolor, and is described as being meaty and mild-
Harvesting And Storage
DAYS TO MATURITY: 55 to 105 days. • Brandywine – This large beefsteak variety tomato is
legendary for it’s “exceptionally rich, succulent fla-
HARVEST: Harvest fully vine-ripened but still firm. vor” and “old-fashioned tomato taste.” An Amish
Picked tomatoes should be placed in shade. Light is not heirloom, it is solid pink-red.
necessary for ripening immature tomatoes but it is nec-
essary for color development. Some green tomatoes • Black Krim – This Russian beefsteak variety is deep
may be picked before the first killing frost and stored maroon red when ripe. It is a medium-sized tomato
in a cool (55°F), moist (90% relative humidity) place. that has a “rich” flavor.
When desired, ripen fruits at 70°F.
• Evergreen – When ripe, this juicy and flavorful
APPROXIMATE YIELDS: 15 to 45 pounds per 10-foot tomato is green with yellow highlights.
• Green Zebra – This green and yellow tomato has “a
AMOUNT TO RAISE: 20 to 25 pounds per person if sweet zingy flavor” and is “as sweet as an apple.” It
used fresh; 25 to 40 pounds for canning. is beautiful when served with yellow, red, orange and
STORAGE: Medium-cool (50° to 70°F), moist (90%
relative humidity) conditions for one to three weeks for • Stupice – This smallish Czechoslavakian tomato is
green tomatoes. Cool (45° to 50°F), moist (90% rela- great for northern climates, is early to ripen, and is
tive humidity) conditions for four to seven days for ripe very productive. It is a smooth red tomato with great
PRESERVATION: Can or freeze as sauces or in chunks • Yellow Pear – This variety produces an endless sup-
(whole or quartered), peeled. ply of yellow, bite-sized, pear-shaped fruit that have
a mild flavor.
Heirloom Tomatoes Check the Internet for current sources of plants, seeds
Heirloom tomato varieties are treasures from the and information, or contact your local Virginia
past. Chosen for outstanding flavor, color, or overall Cooperative Extension Office for sources.
For information on frost protection for tomatoes and other early transplants, see Virginia Cooperative Extension
Publication 426-381, Season Extenders.